If you have any doubts about Nicholas Cage as a superhero, watch Ghost Rider.
Nicholas Cage and Tim Burton are perhaps past their prime, their Con Air and Batman days well past but imagine if they had collaborated at the peak of their powers for a Superman film. Personally that sounds like my idea of hell and history obviously shows it never eventuated but film insider, now documentary film maker, Jon Schnepp has taken a journey down the rabbit hole with The Death Of Superman Lives, to see what the world missed out on, or perhaps was spared from.
The Death Of Superman Lives assembled most of the major players involved in the early stages of the film such as Tim Burton, producer Jon Peters, the three writers, Kevin Smith, Dan Gilroy and Wesley Strick as well as a range of concept artists, wardrobe, assistants and anyone who could offer a retelling and opinion on the film. The only major absence is Nicholas Cage who only appears in some archival interviews and costume mock ups that were filmed before the films scrapping. Schnepp has done well in letting each party open up about the doomed Superman and while there is no direct mud slung in the film, there is a clear sense that there was and may still be a lot of friction between many parties.
As with most great documentaries, Schnepp has allowed his talking heads to dig their own graves. While Peters, Burton and others seem to have the best intention, their vocal disdain for many of the iconic elements of the Superman mythos sits uneasy and portrays the film as a train wreck waiting to happen. While the film was luckily never made, the massive pre-production of concept art, script rewrites and trial footage show a studio at odds with the audience expectation. Handheld footage of Cage discussing the costume with Burton at an early fitting seem to suggest Cage may have been hopelessly uneducated about a character he was about to risk $300 million dollars of studio money to portray. Schnepp is like a whistle blower showing us inside a world we historically don’t get to see.
In 2015 we know that the priority is to keep the movie as similar to the source material as possible, shot for shot recreation is heralded as genius whereas liberties with costuming are vilified and criticized heavily. While this isn’t a perfect world, the liberties taken with Superman Lives seemed egregious. To the point where Kevin Smith rightly points out that his real success with writing the film wasnt that he wrote the initial draft, but in being able to tell people about it for years afterwards. It would be interesting to see where the trajectory of the various parties would have gone if this film had made it out of the gates, its perhaps one time where i am thankful for our current over saturating crop of comic book adaptations.